You could look at trends, statistics and more to get a sense of where charcuterie stands in today’s supermarket deli. But Herb Eckhouse says there is one sure sign that everything is pointing up.
“We’ve seen big money come in,” he says.
Eckhouse is co-owner and co-founder — along with his wife, Kathy — of Norwalk, Iowa-based La Quercia. He started the company after spending 30 years in agriculture and has helped build it into a successful purveyor of handcrafted meats, distributing to all 50 states. The company has helped shape the charcuterie trend in the U.S.
And now charcuterie is popular enough that everyone is entering the game.
“There are some big companies getting involved in the business,” Eckhouse says. “We see that it’s attracting bigger money and that would suggest that the people with money think this will continue to grow.”
Charcuterie has established itself as a versatile answer to multiple consumer asks. Shoppers are continually looking for quality, better-for-you snacking options that don’t require much work, if any at all.
Pre-packaged charcuterie boards, as well as made-to-order boards, check all the boxes.
“American consumers are increasingly appreciating the fact that the quality and taste of packaged cold cuts don’t differ from those cut by the deli or at home,” says Emanuela Bigi, marketing manager for Veroni, headquartered in the U.S. in Logan, New Jersey. “And most importantly our customers appreciate the possibility of having the product available on hand, in the interest of saving time. They also appreciate the fact that the products are already combined, so it really makes serving a creative dish effortless.
“We are seeing growth in the grab-and-go sections of the service deli for Italian meats, where less handling is required, and the quality of freshly sliced products can be matched with pre-sliced options.”
Volpi Foods, based in St. Louis, says its greatest growth has been in pre-sliced packages for many of the same reasons.
“Charcuterie can’t be sliced like a cooked turkey or ham lunchmeat — it requires very thin slices to achieve that melt-in-your-mouth flavor,” says Deanna Depke, the company’s marketing manager. “Consumers and retailers alike are increasingly looking for convenient and consistent options, pushing them towards pre-sliced packages expertly sliced under our care.”
Eckhouse says La Quercia has also monitored the rise of convenience-minded shoppers looking for high-quality products. He says those products — such as the Trio Packs the company is introducing next year that include three classic, smoked and spicy prosciutto — are demanding more space in the perimeter.
The only question is what do consumers perceive as high-quality?
“I believe there is typically a migration of quality,” he says. “The challenge is that there are certain buzzwords that people use that enable them to
enote quality when they haven’t invested in quality. That’s always going to be a challenge for consumers to sort out what’s real and what’s just words.”
Bigi echoes that sentiment, noting that one of the main reasons behind charcuterie’s success in retail is that it offers more high-quality products than other options.
“On one hand producers must meet the demand of more quality-stringent, health-conscious consumers,” she says. “On the other hand, this type of production has to follow very rigid rules that guarantee quality and hygiene, but also ensure top notch flavor and taste, especially for imported traditional cold cuts.”
A niche feel
Cured meats fit nicely into the storytelling culture that many shoppers — particularly younger shoppers — are looking for in today’s supermarket shopping trips.
Along those lines, Volpi recently launched its Heritage Prosciutto line of pure-bred heritage hogs, which are humanely raised without antibiotics on local family farms in Missouri and Illinois.
“The fresh ham is hand-rubbed with sea salt and then aged for over 18 months to develop the signature earthy flavor,” Depke says. “As a fourth-generation family owned and operated company, we are very proud to work with our neighboring farms for all our products, particularly in our new Heritage line.”
That fits nicely alongside what Volpi says is its crown jewel — prosciutto. It is made from fresh, never-frozen pork from the Midwest. The products tell a story of place and process, both of which are important to shoppers.
La Quercia also emphasizes these important aspects.
The company is one of the few curing houses in the country that makes prosciutto to Italian standards while using meat form American pigs.
“We’ve always been what would be considered niche pork,” Eckhouse says. “Pork humanely raised outside of confinement with no antibiotics. From the very beginning that’s been what we use and we’ve progressed from that into special breed, what we call cured meat varietals.”
The company even has what it calls a house breed — a breed of Imberico pigs that have been brought to the U.S. by Spanish families and are now raised here using the same strict standards.
“It produces high-level ingredients and that enables the products to express their quality,” Eckhouse says.
La Quercia is looking to take charcuterie to a more shelf-stable form that harkens back to its roots and helps retailers in the process.
“These meats were traditionally created to allow people to eat for an extended period, before refrigeration,” says Herb Eckhouse, the company’s co-founder. “We’re kind of tapping into that history and coming up with packaging options that enable us to free ourselves from the refrigerated case and let people have greater convenience in finding our cured meats around the story.”
This would allow retailers to showcase charcuterie options all around the perimeter — think next to Italian breads in the bakery, alongside the produce department or in the middle of a wine display.
“We can have our products right net to all the great accompaniments that retailers offer,” Eckhouse says.
Columbus Craft Meats, has found success with its Charcuterie Sampler packs, aimed at easing shoppers into the world of building a charcuterie board. The packs include Calabrese, Genoa, Italian Dry and Sopressata.
Veroni, says its on-the-go cold cut and cheese packs are seeing success. The products, which fall under the umbrella of Italian appetizers and aperitivo, come in multiple selections, such as one with Provolone cheese Prosciutto Italiano, Samale Calabrese and Salame Milano.
Volpi Foods recently expanded its Volpi Roltini Singles snacking line. It now includes a brand new Oaxaca Cheese and Uncured Chorizo wrap that delivers heat from the thin slices of chorizo paired with the creamy cheese.